Watch: The Conscience of a Compassionate Conservative

07/28/2014 02:22 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2014

Previously published on

Politicians in Washington, D.C., seem to have stopped talking -- and listening -- to their colleagues across the aisle, contributing to our virtually deadlocked Congress. While Washington appears to have stopped their conversations, I decided to start a new one.

This week I speak with the American Enterprise Institute's president Arthur C. Brooks, whose political views in large measure differ from my own, on how to fight America's widening inequality.

Brooks says that despite the heated rhetoric of the far right, the compassionate conservatism once touted by George W. Bush isn't dead. It's alive and well at the conservative AEI, where Brooks became president in 2009. Residing now at the top of the conservative pecking order in Washington, Brooks advises Republican leaders in Congress and spreads AEI's message to a wider audience. His specialty, as Newsweek describes it, is "translating ideas from policy speak into soaring moral prose." One of his key ideas: The endgame of free enterprise is not to preserve wealth but to create opportunity for the poor.

"Republicans could come screaming out of the gate going forward and say, 'We're the ones who will fight for the poor. We're the ones who will fight for workers,'" Brooks tells me. "You might not agree with what we're gonna -- how we're gonna do it, but let me tell you, you will not doubt what's on our hearts."

I press Brooks on why companies like Target, McDonald's and Wal-Mart don't pay a living wage to their employees who then have to rely on public programs to support themselves -- in Walmart's case, about $4,000 per worker. Brooks argues the market doesn't support higher wages and agrees that the country needs public policies that make work profitable for workers.

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